Clichés and overused buzzphrases definitely have the potential to make you sound like a complete idiot at work. I've been pretty hard on them myself.
But they're not all bad.
Sometimes, an overworked phrase is just what the doctor ordered to move things in a new direction, stump a co-worker into silence, or even stop a meeting dead in its tracks.
When might it actually make sense to use a cliché? Have a look:
- "We can't boil the ocean." Try this as a last resort when someone just will...not...stop...talking. Make sure you use it out of context and several times. Refuse to answer any questions about why you're saying it or what it means. Repeat "we can't boil the ocean" until they're stunned into complete silence. Bonus points if you use a really despairing voice.
- "Drink the Kool-Aid." Because you're actually having Kool-Aid. Your boss's bratty kid made it and someone needs to drink it. How did that flask of vodka from your top drawer get in there?
- "Run it up the flagpole." This cliché is a great way to deflect responsibility. Anytime you're called on to make a decision you aren't ready to make, tell them to "run it up the flagpole." If they disagree, remember: flagpoles hold flags, and flags are patriotic. Accuse the dissenter of lacking in patriotism and tell them to get right with flagpoles. Drop the mic and walk away.
- "We need to capture the low-hanging fruit." You work in an apple orchard and this is actually pretty important.
- "It is what it is." Maybe you didn't have enough coffee today and that led to you not being as wildly creative as you otherwise would have been. Just slap a confident "it is what it is" on anything you're asked about and keep moving. You can even answer your enraged co-workers who demand to know what you mean by that with a casual "it is what it is," thrown over your shoulder. They'll wonder at your newfound Zen.
- "It's a paradigm shift." People are generally smart enough to infer that shift means change, so this is positive, forward-moving mumbo jumbo talk that can push a positive vote in your favor when pitching a new concept or idea.
- "At the end of the day." So everything sucks right now...you missed a target, you're over deadline, and your boss is really not happy with you. Remind your co-workers about what happens "at the end of the day," which is really just a clever way of making it sound like whatever is happening right now is all part of the plan and you're not done yet. It doesn't even matter what happens at the end of the day, so long as it's better than what's happening right now. When is the end of the day? Doesn't matter, you'll figure that out later.
- "Par for the course." Non-golfers most likely don't even know what it means, but it's been thrown around business circles for decades. The next time you find yourself unable to explain what happened, just say it was par for the course. If you want to look really cool whole saying it, strike a golf swing pose. Be sure to follow through and look far, far off into the distance to track your imaginary ball. When it's "landed," run away to find it. Conversation over!
- "Think outside the box." If you don't like another person's idea, tell them to think outside the box. Then mime from inside the box they've trapped you in...that cold, dank, oppressive box. Make it clear their terrible, uncreative ideas are slowly killing you, starving you of oxygen as you're trapped inside their box. People love these creative approaches to business communications.
- "This is where the rubber meets the road." This is used a lot in sports; it's a redneck-fancy way of saying, this is the most important thing. It's the moment of truth. Bust this cliché out when someone is hesitant to move forward on something you really want them to move on. Follow them around the office squeaking rubber sneakers on the floor until they concede.
- "It was a perfect storm." You screwed up. You know you screwed up, but blame it on Mother Nature, she's used to it. Factors were out of your control! It's not your fault, you can't control the weather! Or the cable company! Or the fax machine breaking! You get the idea.
- "We've got it covered, from soup to nuts." So you don't actually have a plan of attack...it's OK, you've thought of the soup and nuts. You're all good. What's not to trust?
- "Keep calm and..." Carry on? Drink Pepsi? This is a fantastic cliché to use on a co-worker who gets really, really worked up about things...you know the type. They ask a thousand questions in meetings and drive everyone else nuts with their pedantic processes and need to follow every rule to the letter. Telling them to "keep calm" and do anything sends them into a Type-A, control freak rage. Use strategically placed "keep calm" visuals around their workspace to remind them at every turn that they just need to keep calm. Then hide and enjoy.